STARKVILLE — Chase Nicholson won’t be in a hurry today.
The Starkville Academy football coach will begin his Thursday like every other day. He’ll drink plenty of coffee and sweet tea to start the day. Nicholson will have lunch with some of the other coaches at the school and then he will prepare for another practice that will include a lot of the same things the Volunteers do every week.
Included in that package will be work on hurry-up packages so Starkville Academy is ready to go with a no huddle offense if it needs to make the most of a time-and-score situation. The routine has helped Nicholson and the Volunteers establish a winning foundation and a level of expectation within the program.
That pattern paid the biggest dividends Friday night when Starkville Academy went to a hurry-up offense late in the fourth quarter and responded with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Noah Methvin to Raegan Richardson with 44 seconds remaining to beat Heritage Academy 17-14 in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 game at C.L. Mitchell Field.
The victory clinched at least a share of the district title for Starkville Academy (8-1, 3-0 district). It will try to wrap up that championship at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Leake Academy (6-3, 2-1) on Senior Night.
A victory by Starkville Academy likely would wrap up the No. 2 seed in the MAIS Class AAA playoffs, which will begin next week.
Last season, Starkville Academy edged Leake Academy 28-27 in overtime. In 2015, the Volunteers beat the Rebels 21-14.
A victory by Leake Academy and a victory by Heritage Academy (7-2, 2-1) at Canton Academy (3-5, 1-2) would force a three-way tie that would be broken by point differential. The district winner clinches one of the classification’s top five seeds. The other two teams from District 2 are virtually assured of finishing in the top 16 teams in Class AAA and advancing to the playoffs.
But Nicholson didn’t spend a lot of time this week going over the playoff permutations with his players. Instead, he and his assistant coaches went back to work to eliminate the mistakes the Volunteers committed against the Patriots. As senior Kyle Faver has reminded his teammates all season by saying “Nov. 18,” Starkville Academy won’t be satisfied with winning a district title or making the playoffs. Nicholson re-affirmed that point this week when he told the Volunteers they need to correct the five offsides penalties they committed against Heritage Academy if want to realize their goal of playing for a state title next month.
“If you ever stop trying to get better as a team, a player, or a coaching staff, then you become complacent or you become satisfied,” Nicholson said. “I have said it at least once a day about not being satisfied. We can’t be because we’re never going to be perfect.”
Nicholson said the Volunteers started the week with what he said “might have been the best practice of the season.” Going into practice No. 57 Wednesday, Nicholson said the effort the Volunteers showed Monday on a day when seven freshman and one eighth-grader moved up to work with the varsity was exciting because it showed the maturity of the players and their desire to extend the season as long as possible.
“You can’t be satisfied with a victory over Heritage because it will mean nothing if you don’t beat Leake,” Nicholson said. “We’re still in the same stage that we were last week. They have worked themselves to be on this stage again. It prepares us for wherever we’re trying to go because the stage just gets bigger and each stage gets more important.”
Nicholson said he planned Wednesday to reiterate the importance of hard work and humility to his players to ensure they continue to do the things that have gotten them to this point. With a mature group that has embraced the team-first approach, he believes the Volunteers will be able to do that Friday to maximize their chances of playing until Nov. 18.
“It is the most important game we’re going to play this season, and it is the most important game this week,” Nicholson said. “Two weeks in a row. You can’t ask for a better setting. We just get to be home this week.”
Today, Starkville Academy will work again on its hurry-up offense. Nicholson said the Volunteers start on the 30-yard line and work in 5-yard increments on air in practice. Nicholson said the team takes moves all of the way down the field and gets additional conditioning in before it completes its final practice of the week. The process has worked in past years, so Nicholson doesn’t see any reason to change it, especially after a game-winning throw and catch against one of the school’s biggest rivals.
“We make sure everybody gets in there and listens to the calls,” Nicholson said. “It has worked. In 2015, we did a hurry-up (series) against Mag Heights right before halftime and we scored. Last year, we used it against Heritage Academy at the end of the game when we were down by two scores.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.